Lessons Learned From a Homeless Man Named Louie
“Sometimes it’s easy to walk by because we know we can’t change someone’s whole life in a single afternoon. But what we fail to realize it that simple kindness can go a long way toward encouraging someone who is stuck in a desolate place.” ~Mike Yankoski
Today I had a meeting in Nashville (I live about 30 miles away in the suburbs) and on the way home, decided to take the long way to cruise through the streets of downtown and see all the activity and the tourists milling about as a result of CMA Music Fest. Every year around this time, I get a kick out of seeing the out-of-towners who arrive in Music City dressed like Johnny Cash because they think none of us Nashvillians ever step one toe out of the house without our cowboy boots on. A little ways out of downtown, after fighting crazy festival traffic for 30 minutes, I decided to stop at a McDonald’s for a bathroom break and a sweet tea, since I knew I was still a good half hour from home.
As I was pulling out of McDonald’s, I spotted a homeless man standing on the side of the road, handing out newsletters. This is a familiar sight in Nashville, and though I usually try and purchase the newsletters for $1 when I see someone selling them, I didn’t have cash, so I kept going. As I pulled out into the busy intersection to head home, the man waved at me, a sweet, humble smile on his face. Something about that wave and smile plucked at my heartstrings. I ignored it, though, wanting to get back on the road since I knew there were still traffic jams to navigate. As I approached the red light to make a left turn and head back to the interstate, I felt God tugging at my heart.
“Mandy, turn around and go offer to buy that man something to eat.”
I didn’t hear the audible voice of God, but I knew in my heart what He was telling me to do.
Still, I tried to ignore it. I was hungry and eager to get home.
“Mandy.” I felt God’s insistent prodding. I continued to resist, in my mind arguing with Him.
“God, I don’t want to. What if he’s drunk? Or crazy? Or dangerous? I’m a single woman, alone, with no way to defend myself. What if he’s just a pan handler and not even really homeless? What if? What if What if?” – You know, basically all the usual arguments we have with ourselves and with God to get out of confronting the problem of homelessness and poverty and admitting that maybe we can have a small hand in being the solution.
As the light turned green and I started to make the left turn that would take me back to the interstate and away from the man on the corner, something in me just couldn’t turn my back on him. I swooped around in the middle of the road instead, making a u-turn and circling back around to him.
I rolled down my window and the man approached me, somewhat shyly.
“Hello!” I greeted him. “I don’t have any cash (which was true), but can I buy you something to eat or drink?”
He smiled. “Well, I sure do appreciate it, young lady. I’d love something to eat.”
“What can I get for you?”
“Well,” he looked a little bashful. His face was deeply tanned and lined with creases from his long hours spent in the sun. He was clearly not impaired in any way and though he was a bit rumpled and disheveled, he was dressed as nicely as one could be under his circumstances and obviously took pride in his job selling newsletters. “It’s 50 cent cheeseburger day at McDonald’s. How about four of those?”
The request broke my heart a little. I was offering to buy him anything he wanted to eat and his biggest wish was four 50 cent cheeseburgers from McDonald’s. That’s all. He didn’t even ask for a drink.
“Can’t I get you something to wash them down with? A coke, maybe?” I asked.
“Oh, no ma’am. The burgers will do just fine.”
I assured him I’d be right back. And as I sat in the line at McDonald’s, my eyes filled with tears. It would take me exactly five minutes and two dollars to make someone’s day a little brighter, and I had almost passed up the opportunity to do so. Out of fear, out of doubt, out of my own selfish desires to get home a little faster and avoid an inconvenience. How often in life do we miss out on blessing someone because we don’t want to be inconvenienced?
Hit with sudden inspiration, when I got to the window, I ordered the four cheeseburgers…plus a large order of fries, two apple pies, and a large coke. If I was going to be a blessing, I was going to be as big of a blessing as I could be…even if it was in the form of McDonald’s. It’s funny how God can use something as seemingly insignificant as a 50 cent cheeseburger to love on one of His children.
The entire order was just $7.00.
I pulled back to him and handed him the food. He took it from me gratefully. “God bless you, young lady.”
“Can I ask you your name?” I asked him.
“Yes, ma’am. It’s Louie.” He handed me one of his wrinkled little newsletters he had been clutching.
“Hi, Louie. I’m Mandy. Is there anything I can pray for you about?”
His kind, worn eyes crinkled at the sides when he smiled down at me.
“No, ma’am…but I’ll be praying for you.” Then he paused. “When you can’t trace God’s hand, you sure can trust His heart.” He reached down and gave me a fist bump. I laughed.
“Thank you, Louie. I hope you have a great rest of the day.”
“God bless you, Mandy.” He trotted away clutching the drink and the bag of McDonald’s goodies like they were gold. And I headed back into traffic to make my way home, my heart full.
It was on the way home, as I cried tears of joy over my encounter that God started to speak to me. About several things. Things I can only hope I can do a good job of being a vessel and putting into words here.
First – how often do we ignore God’s pullings and tuggings on our hearts because the thing He’s telling us to do doesn’t seem safe, or convenient, or sensible? I think we so often go through life looking for signs and angels and touchstones to point us in the right direction that we miss our opportunities to be those things for someone else. What if we’re not always supposed to be on the lookout for our guardian angels? What if that’s not enough? What if we’re supposed to actually BE that for someone else? “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, you do unto me,” Jesus says in the Bible.
Second – When we do miss opportunities to be a blessing to others, we also lose the blessing ourselves. And I don’t say that for ego-driven or pride-driven reasons. I’m sure Louie enjoyed his three-course meal from McDonald’s, but there’s no way he enjoyed it even half as much as I enjoyed blessing him with it. It filled my heart with joy to fill that sweet man’s belly with food and it only cost me $7. It often takes so very little to bless someone so very much. Why don’t we do it more?
Third (and this is the most important lesson I took from my encounter with Louie) – Louie was homeless, and disheveled, and likely not all that clean. Who knows how frequently he gets to bathe, living on the streets? His clothes were neat but worn. A little dirty. His face was deeply tanned and lines with creases. He was, essentially, a bit of a mess. His life in pieces all around him. His next meal, and even his next steps in life, uncertain. Yet…even in the midst of all that…and actually, BECAUSE of all that…he moved me. He captured my heart. Something about him was so precious, and vulnerable, and childlike, standing there in the shambles of his life, unable to take care of himself, that I wanted to swoop in and help him. I wanted to show him love. I wanted to do whatever I could to minister to him, and bring him a little joy. So what’s my point to all this?
We tend to run from God when we sin. We hide from Him when we mess up. We stand cowering in the corner of the ruins of our lives, scared to approach Him or face Him or ask Him for anything in the way of help because we’re afraid He’s mad at us. We’re afraid we’re too big of a mess for Him to possibly love us. We are pitifully human and entirely uncertain. We are, in a sense, Louie. But…what if it’s possible that if I in all my fleshly and fallible and imperfect humanity found something so sympathetic and so worthy of love in Louie….that maybe, just MAYBE…God isn’t turned off or angry or unsympathetic to us in the midst of OUR messes? What if it is, in fact, exactly the opposite? What if God sees us standing there so hopeless and helpless and ensnared in the chaos of our own bad choices and instead of turning His back on us, it makes Him long to open His arms even wider to us? What if we’ve been wrong about Him all along? What if He only hates the sin because of what it’s done to our lives but is still passionately in love with the sinner? What if He looks beyond the dirt and the muck and the filth and the garbage that we’ve cluttered our lives with and sees only the beautiful, pure, precious heart of His child beating underneath?
What if we’re hanging our heads in shame, asking God for a 50 cent cheeseburger because we don’t feel like we’re worthy of more than that…and all the while He longs to bless us with the burgers, the fries, the large coke, and the apple pie?
Have you encountered a Louie on your path? Or have you been a Louie? Comment below…